Serb War Criminals Elude UN

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- Ten years after a United Nations tribunal indicted Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic for the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II, the world's two most wanted war crimes fugitives remain free.

So, where are they hiding?

The two indicted masterminds of the brutal Bosnian Serb offensives against rival Bosnian Muslims remain at large despite an international outcry for their capture and $5 million per head promised by the United States for information leading to their extradition to the UN tribunal.

Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb wartime leader, and General Mladic, the military commander, have been evading justice since they were jointly indicted by the Netherlands-based tribunal on July 25, 1995, frustrating international officials and UN war crimes prosecutors who want them captured and tried.

The two, who top the UN tribunal's wanted list, stand accused of numerous war crimes, including genocide in the July 1995 slaughter of up to 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the UN-protected Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.

Top Serbian and Bosnian officials and Western diplomats have said that Karadzic and Mladic are relying on disguises, multiple hiding places and a shadowy network of supporters to stay free.

Those who have seen Karadzic say he has shaved his trademark bushy hair, grown a large beard and dresses in black robes to look like a Serbian Orthodox priest. He often changes his hideouts, including monasteries and refurbished mountain caves, Western officials say.

The commander of the European Union's peacekeepers in Bosnia, British Major General David Leakey, said earlier this month that "the net is closing in" on the two suspected masterminds of the Srebrenica slaughter.

But former U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the 1995 Bosnian peace agreement, dismissed this claim. "Nets are for fishing expeditions. You don't capture war criminals -- whether it is Osama bin Laden, Radovan Karadzic or Saddam Hussein -- by going fishing," Holbrooke said in a recent interview.

In the past, Karadzic traveled in ambulances with flashing lights to zip through NATO checkpoints undetected. Now, he travels only at night and avoids main roads, using forest paths through rugged Bosnian mountains, Western diplomats said. His associates say Karadzic has often slipped into Pale, the Bosnian Serb wartime capital, for nighttime visits to his wife, Ljiljana; daughter, Sonja; and son, Sasa.

Ljiljana Karadzic said last week that Sasa and Sonja had not seen the wartime Bosnian Serb leader since 1998, when he went into hiding. She said she met him once briefly in 2001 in a visit apparently organized at a secret location by his security. "I received a message, I saw him for an hour and left," she said, adding that she did not know the location of their meeting. "It's better that we don't know because we would be the weakest link. They [NATO, EU troops] know that we don't know because they follow us all the time. We have also found various listening and tracking devices on our cars."

Mladic, who is accused of leading the Srebrenica slaughter, lived freely in Serbia's capital, Belgrade, until 2002, showing up openly at soccer stadiums, dining in posh restaurants, attending his son's wedding, and visiting his daughter's grave at Bezanijska Kosa graveyard. When, under Western pressure, Serbia's new pro-democracy authorities signaled that they might have to hand Mladic over to the tribunal, he disappeared from public view. The UN war crimes prosecutors have accused the Serbian military of sheltering Mladic.

"Negotiations on Mladic's surrender are ongoing since December," said Matasa Kandic, Serbia's leading human rights activist who is investigating war crimes during the Balkan wars in the 1990s. "At this moment, it is being decided whether he'll disappear for good by hiding somewhere in Russia, or surrender under his terms," Kandic said, contradicting official government claims that his whereabouts are unknown.

UN war crimes prosecutors are furious. "We are not interested in any negotiations" with Mladic or Karadzic, said Florence Hartmann, the spokeswoman for chief UN prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. "There should be no compromise over their capture and extradition."